Sanctions on RAB won’t be lifted without concrete action: Peter Haas

Foreign minister AK Abul Momen was present as chief guest at the seminar organised by BIISS

US ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas on Sunday said US sanctions on Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) would not be lifted if concrete action was are not taken and accountability not ensured.

“There is no scope for repeal of sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion without concrete action and accountability. We want to see a RAB that remains effective at combatting terrorism, but that does so while respecting basic human rights,” Peter Haas said while speaking at a seminar.

Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised the seminar on “Bangladesh and the United States Relations: Moving towards Enhanced Cooperation and Partnership” at the BIISS auditorium.

The United States imposed sanctions on RAB and its six current and former officials on the allegation of gross violation of human rights last December. Bangladesh has been requesting the US authorities lift the sanctions since then.

The US envoy, however, said that the RAB sanctions do not mean the two countries cannot enhance security cooperation.

“We will continue to work with Bangladesh to combat transnational crime and terrorism, enhance border security, and prevent violent extremism. We continue our support to Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime police, the Anti-Terrorism Unit, and the specialised units of the Metropolitan Police in Chattogram, Sylhet, and Rajshahi,” he added.

US not to take any side in next election

Regarding the next general election due to be held at the end of 2023, the US ambassador said his country would not take any side during the election.

“Let me be clear, the United States will not pick a side in the upcoming elections. We simply hope for a democratic process that allows the Bangladeshi people to freely decide who will run their country.”

US ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas speaks at a seminar organised by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) on 24 April

Stating that US and Bangladesh can work together to promote democracy and protect human rights, the ambassador said he is pleased that the foreign minister of Bangladesh AK Abul Momen has stated that Bangladesh will welcome international observers during the next election.

“Holding an election consistent with international standards is not just about the day votes are actually cast. In effect, the elections have already started. Truly democratic elections require the space for civic discourse to take place, an environment where journalists can investigate without fear, and the ability for civil society organizations to advocate broadly,” the US ambassador said.

Regarding the shortcomings of democracy in the US, Peter Haas said, “The United States is not perfect. We have embarked on our own democratic renewal. This journey includes tackling our own issues with police accountability and ensuring all Americans can cast their ballots on Election Day. And we are inviting countries around the world to make similar commitments to strengthen their democracies.”

The US ambassador also welcomed the law minister’s commitment to reform the Digital Security Act to prevent further abuses of the law.

He also talked about two proposed agreements - General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

Speaking at the seminar as chief guest, AK Abdul Momen, MP, noted that the US has been an important partner in Bangladesh’s journey towards development.

He thanked the Biden administration for voting in support of the UNGA Resolution on “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” as well as for the recent recognition of the persecution on Rohingya as Genocide.

Noting that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is one of the key initiatives in Asia and the Pacific, he hoped that Bangladesh and the USA will work together to make this region a peaceful one and create a conducive environment that will bring benefits for all countries.

Chaired by BIISS chairman ambassador Kazi Imtiaz Hossain, director general of BIISS major general Mohammad Maksudur Rahman delivered the welcome address at the seminar.

Professor Ruksana Kibria of International Relations department of University of Dhaka, former Election Commissioner brigadier general (Retd.) M Sakhawat Hossain, ambassador Humayun Kabir, president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI), ambassador Tariq A Karim, director of Center for Bay of Bengal Studies, Independent University Bangladesh, among others spoke at the seminar.